February 16, 2015

To Camp or Not to Camp?

When I first began teaching the 25 students of a special English language/culture program, they told me excitedly that one day we'd go to camp. There were stories of speaking English only for days at a time, and nervous giggles about how they'd ever be able to do that.  Fast forward to almost two years later and it's time for that very camp.

We loaded up on a bus--all of them plus me, the one "adult" of the crowd--to make a six-hour trip to the rustic campground.

We were a few minutes into our trip at this point.
Nestled in giant trees of mangoes, bananas, and just about whatever other tropical fruit you can imagine, this place was a site for sore eyes after all that bus time. I gave them a big pep talk before we piled out to drop off our bags and find the rest of the 90 students who'd come from three other locations across the country. My teens were nervous about how well they'd be able to understand and speak with their peers, so it took a little shoving to get them off the bus and down the path into the jungle.

Yep, there I am in the center of the back row.

After lunch, a welcome speech, and an icebreaker, we split into five groups. Luckily, my group stayed in the dining hall for what was to be the first of a three-day series of classes put on by peace corps volunteers. Did I mention that it was incredibly hot? Well over 100 degrees with enough humidity to make a cactus sweat. I fanned myself with my schedule and tried to keep my water bottle full.

With a few minutes left in that first class, a cool breeze blew through. Uh-oh. I knew what that meant. I jumped up to close a few doors and check to see where all the electronic equipment was plugged in. Within a few minutes, we were in the full-fledged fury of a serious storm.  The lights went out, I unplugged everything I could find, and the kids started gathering the stuff that the wind was blowing around the dining hall. Despite the rain blowing in, no one could bear to close the windows on the much-needed, refreshing wind.

We watched as that wind got stronger and stronger over the next few minutes, causing the huge mango tree outside the door to bend its biggest branches far enough to touch the ground way beneath them. After a few times, it finally snapped. And we heard other snaps, only able to imagine what they might be because the rain was too strong to see far off.

It turned out that we were in the safest spot of all the campers. Others were in much smaller buildings, but thankfully, no one was in the cabins, because some of those were hit by the falling trees and lost parts of their roofs.  We didn't hear these stories until hours later, when the others made their way to the safety of the dining hall.

By the time the storm slacked off, it was getting too dark to do much. So we went in small groups back down the little paths now littered with the fallen trees, assessing the damage and getting our stuff out of the cabins. Later that night I accompanied one student and a couple other adults into town for a trip to the pharmacy, but only after we waited at a few places for men with chainsaws to make a way for us to pass. At some spots, we had to turn around and find a new way because the trees were just too massive.  Seeing how much damage had been done all around, I was very grateful that God protected all of us and that the storm came when it did, rather than an hour later when we would have all been out in the open on the soccer field, unprotected and far from the dining hall.

We all slept in that dining hall that night, and after calling parents and buses the next morning, we packed up to head home. Without water and electricity and with the threat of more storms later that day, it was too risky to stay. The change in plans was disappointing, but we still had the opportunity during the 24 hours of the camp to meet new people and make unforgettable memories in crazy circumstances. And we got in a lot of quality time together on the 12 hours of the round-trip on the bus.

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